Candidates Reaction to School Spending Amendment

I wanted to know what the candidates for State Superintendent of Education thought of Lexington Rep. Nikki Haley’s budget amendment that requires a specific portion of a school districts funding to “be spent on site.” 

I sent the following email to Dr. Gary Burgess, Mr. Frank Holleman, Ms. Elizabeth Moffly, Dr. Brent Nelsen, Ms. Kelly Payne, Dr. Tom Thompson and Dr. Mick Zais

Lexington Representative (and gubernatorial candidate) Nikki Haley introduced and obtained passage of an amendment to H.4657 – General Appropriations Bill 2010-2011 – that alters the Department of Education budget so as to require 70 percent of a school district’s per pupil expenditures be spent on site.

 As candidates for State Superintendent of Education, I would like to get your reaction to this legislation.

The emails were sent to addresses listed on their campaign websites. Four candidates responsed and their answers appear below, in alphabetical order.  Two replies were edited; Ms. Payne’s and Dr. Zais’.  In each case, the only edit was the removal of a paragraph that I felt did not address the question.  Both Ms. Payne and Dr. Zais were advised of the omission.  In neither case did the removal of the text alter the candidate’s message.

 Dr. Gary Burgess:

It’s a step in the right direction.  Can we go up to 80%?  We also need define on site as well as classroom?  There are people working in the district office listed as school building personnel, ie curriculum coordinators.

Dr. Brent Nelsen:

I’m all for getting as much funding into the classroom as possible. The devil is in the details. How are we counting classroom expenditures? I want as few mandates from Columbia as possible. Local control with state accountability is what I think that all involved with education policy in South Carolina should be after.

Once elected, I intend to institute a zero based budgeting process for one year, to determine what the key functions are, and are not, in the state Department of Education. What I would like is to combine efforts at getting more resources to the classroom, while having worthwhile accountability from Columbia.

Ms. Payne:

We must direct our dwindling education dollars to where they’ll do the most good — and that’s in classrooms. It’s difficult to see much of a direct benefit to students in spending as much as we do on administration rather than in classrooms where our students are.

 We need to use common sense. We should never furlough or cut classroom teachers until we’ve removed every single ounce of fat from administrative spending and overhead. We don’t improve student academic performance and graduation rates by lavishly spending on administration. It’s true that some amount of administrative and overhead spending is necessary, but we must strike a proper balance. Think about it, where do students benefit the most — in school classrooms — or in state and district administrative offices?

 I know the answer because I teach students in the “laboratory of the classroom” where I see daily results.  You know the answer because of common sense and because you realize there’s such a low return on your investment when we skim-off so many of our scarce education dollars to consume them on overly-generous administrative and overhead spending.

Dr. Mick Zais:

I believe the State of South Carolina spends enough taxpayer money on education, but not enough of it is spent in the classroom. Far too many of the dollars allocated for the operational costs of educating our students is spent on administrative overhead. In response to this loss of educational funding between Columbia and the classrooms of our state, I support all efforts to have as many dollars as possible spent on the direct education of our students. In particular, I support the budget proviso to require 70 percent of a school district’s state funding for students to follow them to their schools.

  There are three policies that I would work with the next Governor and General Assembly to ensure a better return on investment for the taxpayers:

 *         Enact legislation to require school districts to spend a high percentage of taxpayer money in the classroom. The amendment to the budget is only binding for one budget year and because state government will be a significant source of funding for school districts for the foreseeable future, state policy makers should make such a funding requirement permanent law.

   *         Reform education funding. There is near unanimous agreement that we should transition to a weighted student funding system. Put simply, the money should “follow the child” to his or her school where a principal and the teachers make the decisions about how to best use the funds they have received to meet the needs of all students. Those who are on the frontlines and meeting students’ needs must be empowered to use their professional expertise to create the best learning opportunities for their students. I will make it a priority in my administration to work with the next Governor and General Assembly to enact legislation to make this transition. Another benefit of a simplified funding system is fewer state employees will be required to monitor the flow of dollars, and those dollars saved in administrative costs can be recovered to the classroom.

 *         Transparency of school expenditures is the final component to increasing the return on investment for the taxpayers. If school districts are to be provided with the flexibility of how they spend taxpayer dollars, they should be required to post expenditures online for the parents, policy makers, the press and the public to see. This transparency requirement is non-negotiable: if the state is to allow flexibility for school districts there must be stringent transparency requirements.



One thought on “Candidates Reaction to School Spending Amendment

  1. Burgess’ answer is incomprehensible due to his in ability to use Standard English (I assume that is a verbatim quote?).
    Nelsen’s is standard bureaucratese – no answer at all. If he doesn’t know “…what the key functions are, and are not…”, he isn’t prepared to be the Superintendent.
    Payne didn’t answer the question – it called for a yes or no answer and she obfuscated. She is also factually incorrect, funding has gone up, dollars are not “dwindling” – Ms. Haley understands that metric and thinks the proportion of expenditures is what’s wrong (she’s right by the way)
    Score 1 for Zais, he directly answered the question and provided sufficient detail to understand what he was talking about.


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